| By Teresa Peterson

Trailblazer: Diane Brown Founded a Movement of Prayer

This is part of an occasional series on women leaders in the Church.

She’s less than five feet tall, she never attended college, and she suffered the heart-breaking loss of a teenage son. But the life of Diane Brown has never been about her shortcomings or her tragedies. It has been about doing what God has asked of her. When she explains how she founded a ministry and a spiritual retreat center, she points to God.

“It was not me. It was God. Because in the situation I was in, I wanted to crawl under something and hide. Instead, it mushroomed into something else. I really feel that I didn’t start this; I didn’t get the idea for it. It just happened,” said Brown, 89.

Brown has been Catholic her whole life, but she experienced a dramatic moment of conversion in 1971, shortly after her 15-year-old son, Graham, died in a boating accident in front of the family’s Clearwater Beach home. The experience brought her to her knees. She grew closer to God than she had ever been.

“I realized the only way that I found any peace at all was having that love of God and realizing that only God can understand my wound within.  I knew God was the only one who was going to be able to take away my pain and give me peace,” said Brown.

Soon after, she heard God speak to her.

“One day, I just heard the words, ‘build a house of prayer where people can come and pray,’ and that's what I did. And people came, and they're still coming,” said Brown.

She convinced her husband, Herb, a successful entrepreneur, to purchase a small house in Clearwater along Tampa Bay. It was a house she discovered after God prompted her to turn down a side street off Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

That was the first House of Prayer, and it opened in 1980 as a place for healing.

“It's not necessarily healing for a broken toe to heal, or something like that. It's to heal the inner self. It’s to heal the wound within your heart. So, it's really helping people to deal with pain in their life. It's teaching people how to take the emotions that they have and give them to God,” said Brown.

Soon after she started Our Lady of Divine Providence House of Prayer®, there were so many people who wanted to support Brown’s efforts to help people find healing through Jesus Christ, that she founded a community known as the Marian Servants of Divine Providence®. The community is made up of Catholic men and women dedicated to guiding God’s people to healing, freedom, and purpose in Christ.  It is recognized by the Diocese of St. Petersburg as a Public Association of the Faithful, which means they have been approved by the Catholic Church to help people grow in holiness.  It also allows them to teach in the name of the Church and they can form other affiliate communities. 

The little House of Prayer that was purchased in 1980 was demolished because it was beyond repair. But in 2005, Brown led the construction of a 12,000 square foot House of Prayer that cost over $2 million dollars. It includes a 300-person chapel and a 50-person Adoration Chapel. There are seven retreat houses on the House of Prayer property now. Six of these were once nearby residences that have been purchased. 

Diane Brown’s leadership and obedience to God led to the House of Prayer’s expansion over the years.

Early on, when Brown prayed about how the House of Prayer could be a source of healing and hope, she had a vision of Jesus at the top of a staircase with priests streaming to him. This vision inspired the addition of a new retreat house built in 2018. Named after St. Thérèse Couderc, the Mother Couderc Retreat House is designed and prioritized for priest retreats, including regular retreats by the Institute for Priestly Formation, a spiritual formation program for American seminarians, priests, and bishops.

Another building that was added in 1992, was the Cenacle of Our Lady of Divine Providence School of Spiritual Direction®. This was built after a Marian Servant had a vision of Mother Couderc saying, “The Lord would be pleased to have the Rules taught here.”  Brown and Dr. Ron Novotny, Ph.D., S.T.L., the first director of the school, recognized that as a reference to St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment that are taught to spiritual directors.  A donor stepped forward to assist with construction costs, a sign that God’s providence was indeed being followed. Another sign is that the school is certified by Franciscan University of Steubenville and has a waiting list of over one year to enroll in the program. 

Diane Brown experienced challenges on this journey. In the early days, some would call her decision to build a House of Prayer at God’s request, misguided at best or crazy at worst. But she persevered. Even when a neighbor tried to intimidate her to move the House of Prayer out of the neighborhood, she stood her ground. One of her detractors sold his property to her, seemingly because it was better to join forces with her than to oppose her. 

Over the years, some have questioned if a woman should be taking on the role of opening a House of Prayer or a School of Spiritual Direction, especially a woman who was not a vowed religious or someone who did not hold a college degree. She always said it was God’s plan, not hers. In fact, this isn’t the life she envisioned for herself.  She calls herself a “housewife from Louisiana.”  But she surrendered to God’s plan, and there was no stopping her. 

When asked if this journey was made more difficult because she was a woman, she said, “Well, it wasn't harder for me. Because I felt so sure that God wanted it.”

Who Inspires Diane Brown?

Mary, Mother of God

Diane Brown recalls always having a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that was passed down to her by her own mother. Brown describes Mary as the perfect example of obedience and the perfect example of humble servanthood. For the Marian Servants of Divine Providence, Mary is front and center. They pray the Rosary daily. They call it their “weapon of choice.” They consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary each year and pray the Marian consecration prayer each day.  

St. Thérèse Couderc, a Religious Sister from France who Co-Founded the Sisters of the Cenacle

Pope Paul VI canonized Mother Couderc as a saint on May 10, 1970, after approving two miracles attributed to her intercession. Mother Couderc managed a mountain hostel for women pilgrims at a shrine in southern France. It became a successful retreat house under her guidance. Her greatest desire was to provide women with a place of solitude, prayer, and meditation, to help souls find Christ. She spoke often of the importance of surrendering oneself to Christ.

“If people could just understand ahead of time the sweetness and peace that are savored when nothing is held back from the good God! How he communicates himself to the one who seeks him sincerely and has known how to surrender herself. Let them experience it and they will see that here is found the true happiness they are vainly seeking elsewhere.” — Mother Couderc

For more information about Our Lady of Divine Providence House of Prayer and the Marian Servants of Divine Providence please visit